Production activities on Australia's first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will make a significant advance early next month, according to a Lockheed Martin programme official.

Speaking to Flightglobal in London on 17 October, vice-president F-35 programme integration and business development Steve O'Bryan said the first part of the aircraft's centre fuselage is due to be loaded into a jig at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale site in California on 1 November.

The conventional take-off and landing F-35A is one of two Australian aircraft contained within Lockheed's sixth low-rate initial production contract, which covers deliveries in 2014.

 F-35 model - Commonwealth of Australia

Commonwealth of Australia

Canberra has so far funded the acquisition of two F-35s to support initial ground and aircrew training activities to be performed in the USA. It could eventually buy up to 100 production examples for the Royal Australian Air Force, with the stealthy type (pictured above in model form at the 2009 Avalon air show) to replace its legacy Boeing F/A-18A/B Hornets.

An Australian decision on whether to order its next planned batch of 12 aircraft is due to be taken in 2014 or 2015, with this having been deferred from an original date during 2012 in a bid to save costs associated with the programme.

Source: Flight International